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Aaron Bell Dies

Aaron Bell, a bassist who worked in Duke Ellington’s orchestra in the early ’60s and backed jazz and pop singers on numerous recordings, died July 28 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He was 82.

Born Samuel Aaron Bell in Muskogee, Okla., he began playing music on piano (his mother was a piano teacher) and moved on to brass instruments in high school (trumpet and tuba). Bell took up the double bass while attending Xavier University in New Orleans and began gigging with local bands. He played in Navy bands during World War II and afterwards joined Andy Kirk’s big band, which took him to New York City.

Bell settled in New York and continued his education at New York University, finding time between classes to perform and record with Teddy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway and others. In the mid- and late-’50s Bell formed a band that recorded five albums as a leader. These recordings have never been released on CD. The bassist can be heard on CD as a backing musician, however, most notably as part of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, which he joined in 1960. He and drummer Sam Woodyard were one of the best Ellington rhythm sections and appear on Piano in the Background and the compilation New Mood Indigo, among other discs.

Bell left Ellington in 1962 but would occasionally return as an arranger for the band until Duke’s death in 1974. For the rest of his performing career Bell took theater project gigs and played as a sideman with musicians like Harold Ashby, Cat Anderson and Clark Terry. He began teaching music in 1970 in Newark, N.J. and received his doctorate degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. The teaching allowed him to brush up on his keyboard skills and in his later years he was playing piano as much as he was playing bass.

Bell leaves many survivors, including his wife, two daughters,

three sons, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Originally Published